Ibracadabra


2004. There is a party atmosphere in the Amsterdam Arena as Ajax are cruising to a victory over NAC Breda. The ball is played into their gangly young striker with his back to goal, surrounded by defenders. His first touch is poor, taking it towards an onrushing defender. However he manages to outmuscle the defender in the tackle and glide forward, expertly feigning a shot to send two defenders the wrong way. Then he starts to have fun. At the edge of the box, still the whole of the Breda defence to beat he feigns again with his left and moves off at lightning speed on his right. The ball seems to have come under his irrepressible spell as he jinks and dances through the box. An island of cool amongst a sea of chaos he feigns a shot on his right, calmly shifts the ball onto his left and slots the ball in for an astounding individual goal. This is the magic of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Since that remarkable goal Ibra has regularly produce such moments of magic on an incredible march of seven league titles in seven seasons with four different clubs. It seems strange then, that he still divides opinion, attracting as much criticism as adulation.

With Ibra it seems to be an issue of personality, both on and off the pitch. On the pitch he is criticized for his supreme laziness. Critics observe he only emerges into the game when it most suits him, unwilling to sacrifice himself for the ‘greater good’ of the team. However this completely misses the point. Ibrahimovic is not very good at defending, so why should he waste his energy bustling around a la Carlos Tevez, when he could save that energy to do his job- win games. However the problem with this apparent sloth is more that it doesn’t endear Ibra to people. It portrays an arrogance, an ego that is very hard to like, no matter how talented the individual. There is no denying, Ibrahimovic is an arrogant guy and his strange, maverick personality has lead to many problems in his career. He often antagonises teammates for no apparent reason other than his own boredom, with bizarre incidents such as when footage emerged of him karate kicking his Milan teammate Rodney Strasser or when Van der Vaart claimed he deliberately injured him in an international friendly (which led to his departure from Ajax). The fact he seemed to think Pep Guardiola was ‘scared of’ him is evidence that his distinct personality was a major reason for him leaving Barcelona.

While it has caused him some trouble, this exuberant individualism, a throwback to the likes of Chinaglia and Best, it is one of the qualities that makes him so fascinating. The modern football landscape often seems devoid of personality, but Ibra refutes that claim. His gigantic ego and confidence are part of what makes him such a good player as well. In many ways his contradictory and incomprehensible personality defines the way he plays. Tall and strong and in the exact same moment quick and agile, both a bull and a ballerina. It is this all round ability that makes him such a fearsome opponent. He has the physicality and directness to demolish teams, the searing pace to get in behind them and the sheer skill to make goals out of nothing. Sometimes he is defined as a poacher but this couldn’t be further from the truth, his all round hold up play is excellent, expertly bringing other players into the game or picking a pass. And obviously his goalscoring record is phenomenal but not in the simple numbers, which are impressive (broadly averaging a goal every other game in his career), but rather in the incredible range of goals he scores. Acrobatic volleys, simple tap ins, spectacular long range efforts, powerful headers he is both a great goalscorer and a scorer of great goals. With Milan this year he appears to have reached his zenith, leading a decent team to the top of Serie A with 8 assists and 13 goals in just 21 matches, producing countless moments of Ibra magic. It is often said Ronaldo and Messi are on a different planet, but in terms of modern attackers they’re not too far away from Planet Zlatan.

The player has his faults. He can be temperamental, disinterested and infuriatingly anonymous. But they come as part of the Ibrahimovic package and it is some package. At his best he is a literally unstoppable attacking force, one of only a few players who can consistently produce moments of pure inspiration. No matter his detractors they cannot take away his incredible success. Surely no player has ever done what he seems on course to and win eight league titles in eight seasons with five different clubs. He has an unlimited capacity to dazzle and annoy, enthral and infuriate all at once. To watch Ibrahimovic is to be spellbound.

by Ryan Murphy

A league of their own?


 

In the future could matches between Chelsea and United only be in a European league?

Something that has been spoken about in many pubs and bars across Europe for many years is the prospect of a European Super League. How many times have you heard someone make the statement “It’s inevitable, football’s all about money anyway and TV money drives everything so it’ll happen”. Usually this is closely followed up by someone else chiming in with “Yes but, who wants to watch Man U – Real Madrid four times a season, what about the local rivalries?”
And so it goes. Most supporters feel that someone, somewhere is working away at making this happen and that there is a willingness there, a desire to make this happen. However, you look at the current set up for the clubs, the money-spinning Premier League and the really major cash-machine of the Champions League.

Why change? Well certain other planets are currently coming into alignment which might push the game’s power brokers into reviewing their future horoscopes.

Platini’s so-called financial fair play rules are upon us. Rules which may – on the face of things – make European football more equitable and lessen the power and influence of the major clubs.
In short, clubs could be banned from European competition from the 2014/15 season onwards if they do not comply with the new financial rules. So what will this mean for the clubs? -read on>

The times, they are a changing


Platini handing Man Utd the Champions league runners up medal

Michel Platini. The name that sends a shiver down the spines of the Premier League big boys. He’s finally got his wish, ever since he was installed as king (or whatever) of U.E.F.A, he has been on a one man mission to demolish all that is evil about the European game. No, not the racist supporters of Italy, Spain and Eastern Europe. Not the bungs and backhanders from shady agents. Not the diving and cheating at the highest level. Not even the blatant tapping up of players through the media. Platini has seen only one thing that is a danger to the European game, English football. Be afraid; be very afraid, because he has finally found a way to destroy it. -read on>

Athletic Bilbao – More Than a Club


The Bilbao Fans

Athletic Bilbao are the last team in modern football that can honestly claim to be a team of local players. Resisting the sweeping globalisation in football, this proud Basque club has maintained it’s policy of only selecting players born and bred in the Basque country. This policy has elicited much debate, gaining many admirers as well as critics, and makes Athletic a uniquely fascinating club.

Athletic are one of the oldest and most successful clubs in Spain. Formed in 1928 (only  Recreativo de Huelva are older), the club has since won eight national championships and twenty-three king’s cups. Only two teams have bigger trophy cabinets: Real Madrid and Barcelona. Along with these two, Athletic are the only club in Spain never to be relegated. However, with the rapid globalisation of football since the Bosman ruling, Los Leones have been somewhat left behind due to their la cantera philosophy. The last league title came in 1984, and since then the club has been mired in mediocrity. However, to judge this club in pure footballing terms is to miss the point. -read on>

Dani Pacheco, Liverpool’s Cesc Fabregas


Daniel Pacheco, Spain and Liverpool's young talent

It is the summer of 2007. A product of Barcelona’s famed youth academy has just been snapped up by a leading Premier League side. Hopes are high for the youngster. Comparisons are made with Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas. Have the Catalans let another young gem slip through their fingers? Liverpool hope that the answer is yes, as they unveil their new starlet. His name is Daniel Pacheco. -read on>

Nuri Şahin: Dortmund’s New Star


Dotmund's new star Sahin with Jurgen Klopp

Borussia Dortmund are back. After years in the Bundesliga wilderness since the heady days of the late 1990’s, Dortmund are back on top again. They have taken the Bundesliga by storm, sitting ten points clear at the winter break having played some of the most breathtaking football in Europe.It is a team full of technically excellent, intelligent young players who have produced some wonderful attacking play with excellent movement and high tempo passing. At the heart of it all is a young Turkish midfielder, Nuri Şahin. To many this will not be a new name, as he has long been touted as one of the most prodigiously talented youngsters in the world. -read on>

S.S. Lazio: Where Eagles Dare


The Eagle of Stadio Olympio

An eagle is released and soars around the Stadio Olympico, swooping through the clear Roman sky, roared on by thousands of fans before majestically flying back to its trainers arms. It is a bizarre and controversial scene, but then again Lazio are no strangers to controversy. The stir the eagle has created amongst animal rights groups is nothing compared to past controversies, a long list including Nazi salutes by players, racist banners and support for Serbian war criminals. Many of these were the acts of a minority group of extreme right-wing ultras but it nevertheless tarnishes the club’s image.

While mired in controversy the club is also steeped in history, being the first club established in Rome in 1900 (they often brag to rivals Roma that Lazio brought football to Rome). In those 110 years however they have only won two Scudetto’s, the most recent of which was in 2000. The current side are looking to build on that and honour this clubs fiery and dramatic past. -read on>

Afellay: A Hleb or a Cruyff?


 

Ibrahim Afellay signs for Barca

In mid-November, PSV and Barcelona confirmed the transfer of Ibrahim Afellay for around €3 million. The first question evoked by this transfer is, do Barca need another attacking-midfielder? This is the team that beat their closest rivals 5 nothing in El Classico two weeks later. What could this team gain in buying another midfielder?

They bought Javier Mascherano in the summer and he has barely featured so far. When one considers he cost around €20 million, that is a lot to spend on a player who is not a regular. Will the same be the case for Afellay, although he cost very little and he will surely start as a sub and will primarily be used as a sub for most of the season. -read on>

Rafael Van Der Vaart: the Big Fish Little Pond Effect


 

Rafael Van der Vaart and the Big Fish Little Pond Effect - Image Courtesy of Gregory Rodriguez Bott

We are working with These Are Utopias Who Never Happen to bring you a brand new Illustrations section to upper90magazine. If you are interested in having your artwork published by us please email us at upper90magazine@googlemail.com

Follow upper90magazine on Facebook or Twitter -read article aswell>

Wally with the Brolly


Wolfsburg taunt McLaren, the Wally with the Brolly

It’s the time of year that underperforming managers dread…Christmas. By now you have had your chance to prove what you can do and if it’s not working out the vultures will start circling. In recent weeks we have seen Chris Hughton, Sam Allardyce and Rafa Benitez (read Benitez joins the Italian Job…less) all lose their jobs and it looks like Steve McLaren’s time as manager of VFL Wolfsburg is hanging by a thread! -read on>

FC Copenhagen: A European Adventure


FC Copenhagen starting line up at the Nou Camp

For many this season FC Copenhagen were an unknown quantity, most observers from outside of Denmark knew little about them or how they would fair. The majority of the football world having seen their Champions League group would have expected them to at best make it only to the Europa League. A group containing Barcelona, Rubin Kazan (Russian champions) and Panathinaikos (Greek champions), looked a hard one for Copenhagen to get out of. Copenhagen have no great stars unlike the other three teams, they have a fairly small transfer budget and have never previously got past the group-stages. -read on>

Benitez joins the Italian Job…less


Benitez waving goodbye

After just 6 months into his managerial role Rafael Benitez has been sacked by his club Inter Milan. This comes after days of speculation from the media regarding Benitez’s position.  On Monday morning many of the tabloid papers in Italy printed headlines saying that the Spaniard had been sacked, and it was only when Benitez spoke with a Spanish radio station saying, “I have not been fired” that the situation was cleared up, well sort of. It looks like this was only delaying the inevitable, with his departure expected to be officially announced within the next 48 hours.

It seems very strange to me that any manager should have to deny that his Club has sacked him. But that is exactly the circumstances Rafael Benitez found himself in on Monday concerning his position at Inter Milan. When Inter President Massimo Morrati was asked about Benitez’s future he refused to comment, which can’t have filled the manager with much confidence. I thought that it would have been fairly simple for Morrati to say he has, or he hasn’t fired Benitez. It is this ambiguous reaction from the President of Inter that clearly showed there was trouble at’ mill. -read on>

Identity Theft


Arsenal moved from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium

A sign of the ever-increasing financial pressure upon the modern game is the fact that many of England’s biggest clubs are in the process of arranging moves away from the sites they have called home for many generations. This isn’t new, in the last decade Manchester City moved away from Maine Road, their home of eighty years, and Arsenal departed Highbury, which had hosted the club since 1913. Arsenal were easily filling their relatively small capacity of 38,419 and were therefore operating with a huge financial disadvantage to their main competitor Manchester United who were hosted at the significantly larger Old Trafford. They took the opportunity to move out of Highbury to the Emirates which itself has been a financial success. But to what extent has it affected the identity and soul of the club? Surely there must be a negative side effect of leaving the home that for them had been the setting of countless triumphs? With Chelsea, Spurs, West Ham, Everton and Liverpool all planning on leaving their stadia for larger and more modern versions, fans will naturally be wary of the transition. All avenues should be pursued to ascertain what could be done to increase capacity whilst retaining the heart and soul of the club. Whilst for the business money and successes are key, the issue is a vital illustration of how for real fans nothing can replace the characteristics and traditions of the club that make it theirs. -read on>

Premier League vs La Liga


Premier League vs La Liga

David Villa Celebrates for Barcelona - sourced from www4.pictures.zimbio.com

In a week that saw every premier league club score in one weekend for the first time, and also one of the greatest team performances of all time from Barcelona, which is the stronger and more exciting league?

With some of the world’s greatest players no longer opting for the premier league and looking for clubs in other countries, is the English top division losing its appeal? In the past the top flight in England has boasted some of the greatest players ever to grace the field of play, names such as Ronaldo, Bergkamp, Overmars, and Cantona are just a few. But now, even though money seems no option for most of the big clubs in the premier league, big stars seem to go elsewhere.

The warm shores and attractive football of the Spanish La Liga seems to be the preferred destination for many of the world’s stars. David Villa is the most notable name to shun the premier league, opting to stay in his native Spain with Barcelona and turning down lots of offers on the table from English clubs, and after Monday night’s performance in El clasico few could blame him.

The performance of Barcelona in that game was one of the greatest team performances La Liga and the world has ever seen. The intricate passing and fluent skill of the Barcelona players blew Real Madrid away, as it would have done all teams. The performance stemmed from some of the world’s greatest players, Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and Villa. However, all of the Barca players can play the game with ease and quality.

The Spanish game is based on skill, quick short passing and fluency and you will see that in all the teams in the Spanish top division. It may be slow at times and some might say boring, but for true lovers of the game the precision, pure talent and vision on show is a joy to watch. The passing at times is a thing of beauty, and not just from the top teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia, lower sides like Hercules, Sporting Gijon, and Levante play the game of football with the same ethos. You will never see a Spanish team play “ugly” football. But at times this want for perfection can become painfully slow and boring with neither side taking hold of a game. read on

Scotland Yard: Is there too much pressure on referees?


Scottish Referee Dougie McDonald giving as good as he gets

Maradona, Pele, Zidane, Cruyff, Moore….the list of world-class players across the years is endless, but can you say the same about referees. The stereo-typical decrepit old man in black is possibly the most  influential figure in any football game but is he influential for the right reasons?

There’s certainly a few grey heads on the Scottish FA pondering the same question. Following Celtics harsh criticism of  referee, Dougie McDonald; Category One referees in Scotland have voted to strike… meaning there could be a week of postponed fixtures in the SPL. Former referee Kenny Clark told BBC Scotland “Referees are at the end of their tether, and it’s not just how it’s impacting on them but it’s the impact it’s all having on their families and business lives.” -read on>

Mikel “uncapped” Arteta


Mikel 'uncapped' Arteta - sourced from http://static.guim.co.uk

You may ask yourself what is the purpose for the inverted commas and uncapped between Mikel Arteta’s name? Well I offer another question, who is the best player in the premiership yet to play for his own nation? Or better yet in the world?

Whilst twiddling my thumbs to the boredom of part time retail work I threw this question too and from the depths of my brain and one name popped up amongst others, Mikel Arteta. Mikel was one of many hot prospects which rouse from Barcelona’s well renown youth system. When of age he moved to Scotland for a loan spell with rangers before committing to Everton where he plays his professional football today. take a peak

Inzaghi, Scholes and the fountain of Youth


Fillipo Inzaghi - sourced from uksoccershop.com

In a week where Gareth Bale has ‘ran away’ with the headlines (literally) it has been another Champions League performance that caught my eye. Fillipo Inzagi’s brace against Real Madrid marked a historic moment in the Italians career, his now european goal tally of 70 makes him the all time top scorer in European competition. At 37 Pipo is in his 20th season as a pro, yet he is still able to outperform his world-class team-mates (Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Pato) who are all 10-15 years his junior.

Without being blessed with pace or a catalogue of Ronaldinho like skills, it has been Pipo’s ability to play on the last man’s shoulders as well as having a habit of being in the right place at the right time that has made him such a hit on the world stage. Both his goals against Madrid on Wednesday night were classic Inzaghi, both real poachers goals with a hint of offside, but it is exactly this type of play which has meant that Inzaghi ‘has’ and ‘can’ carry on playing at the top-level. -take a peak>

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